From the English country estate of the Duke of Beaufort that bears its name, to the diversion of choice for countless summer barbecues, the sport of badminton enjoys (or is that suffers from?) a wide range of connotations. Here on campus, though, the sport is revered and practiced without much fuss by the Harvard Badminton Club for its pure blend of athleticism and speed. Indeed, watching the young club, which just three years ago joined the sport’s governing body for area clubs, the Northeast Intercollegiate Badminton League (NIBL), is to witness a wild mishmash of pingpong and volleyball – on steroids. A far cry from that laid-back game so often played with a beer in hand.
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“It’s such a great sport,” explains College senior Cathy Cheng, co-president of the club and Harvard’s unofficial No. 1 booster for the sport. “It combines all these other factors from other sports. You have to be able to jump high and get really good smashes just like you would go up in volleyball to spike the ball; then again, you have to be really fast,” adds Cheng.
That last requirement – speed – owes to the standard use of feathered shuttlecocks (aka birds or birdies) in intercollegiate play. Unlike shuttlecocks with a nylon skirt, the feathered version allows players to send serves and returns with considerable heat and control. For that, badminton’s reputation as the world’s fastest racquet sport is well deserved.
Active throughout the academic year, the Harvard Badminton Club is split into competitive and recreational sides. The former is limited to 30 players (or “shuttlers”), as stipulated by NIBL rules, and includes both undergraduate and graduate students. Tryouts are held each semester with the club’s board selecting the lot from among 40 to 50 hopefuls. Membership to the recreational team, meanwhile, which currently boasts more than 550 listserv subscribers, is open to the entire University community, and truly runs the gamut: from faculty to postdocs to spouses of Harvard affiliates. Both sides tend to attract a good number of individuals (novices and ranked players alike) from Asia and Europe, where the sport – an Olympic event since the ’92 Games – is second only to soccer in terms of popularity.
The club’s competitive team is currently 0-1 following a 2-7 loss to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, wherein the Engineers captured seven of nine matches (matches comprise the best of three games to 21 points). Meanwhile, the club’s recreational half, which generally meets at the Malkin Athletic Center once a week for games and drills, always welcomes new shuttlers. Visit the team’s site for more information.